Asimov’s Science Fiction, Vol. 41, Nos. 3 & 4 (March/April 2017)

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Asimovs 2017 3-4Asimov’s continues its 40th anniversary celebration with its March/April issue. Thirteen stories, half a dozen poems, and plenty of little asides about what the magazine means to the various contributors.

It begins with “Soulmates.com” by Will McIntosh, a story about love in the digital age which reads like it was meant to be charming, but came off rather creepy. Both characters behave like vengeful stalkers at different points in the story and it all got tied up far too neatly, with the one of the characters essentially “hacking” all of the problems away.

Next up is “Number Thirty-Nine Skink” by Suzanne Palmer. The story concerns a robot designed to colonize an alien world by producing perfect duplicates of various Earth lifeforms and dispersing them across the planet’s surface. The robot continues with this project, despite most of the colonization crew leaving and the only human who stayed behind dying. On top of the robot coping with the concept of loneliness, there are also some native lifeforms that object to a robot that mass-produces invasive species. This one’s a bit tricky to follow at first as the reader figures out what’s going on. The cover art by Tomislav Tikulin depicts a scene from this story.

Next up is “Three Can Keep a Secret …” by Bill John and Gregory Frost. Strip out the mimic suits and space travel and what you’ve got is a basic caper story in which a professional assassin is hired by two separate clients to kill one another. Like the best capers, the solution is right there in plain sight, but not obvious until the story’s end.

“The Ones Who Know Where They Are Going” by Sarah Pinsker is less of a science fiction piece and more of a thought experiment on the virtues of sacrifice.

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Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Astounding Science Fiction April 1953-smallOnce upon a time, there was a strand of science fiction called hard science fiction, dedicated to the exploration of scientific puzzles and more-or-less accurate studies of the physical sciences. The roots of this strand would seem to lie in the technology-focused stories of Jules Verne. Sometimes there’s an adventure involved (Larry Niven’s Ringworld), sometimes not so much (Robert Forward’s Dragon’s Egg). Whatever the type of story, in hard sf it was the science that occupied center stage. One of the foremost practioners of this style of science fiction was Hal Clement (1922-2002).

Hard science fiction still exists, obviously. Cixin Liu, Vernor Vinge, and Greg Bear are all writing science-heavy stories. Now, though, there’s less of the puzzle-solving variety, and a greater emphasis on exploring the effects of science on people and society. Larry Niven won a Hugo for the story “Neutron Star,” which hinges on its hero understanding how tides work. I’d be curious if anyone’s written a story like that in the last ten or twenty years. In his overview of The Best of Hal Clement, John O’Neill examined the possible causes for the decline in popularity of hard sf.

Clement published his first story, “Proof,” in 1942, while still an astronomy student at Harvard. After the Second World War (during which he flew 35 bombing missions as a B-24 pilot and co-pilot) he taught astronomy and chemistry at Milton Academy for many years. His first novel, Needle (1950), the story of a symbiotic space detective, was written in response to William Campbell’s claim that a true sci-fi mystery couldn’t be written. His third novel, and today’s subject, Mission of Gravity (1954), is an exemplar of hard science fiction at its diamond-hardest.

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A Wonderful Fantasy Novel for Young Adults: Protected By the Falcon by Erika M Szabo

Monday, March 27th, 2017 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Protected by the Falcon-small

Erika M Szabo is both a prolific author and artist, and owns Golden Box Books Publishing Services. Her numerous children’s books, such as MeToo, The Annoying Little Sister, A Basketful of Kittens, and Look, I Can Talk with My Fingers, are delightful and very successful, and many of them have been translated into Spanish.  A nurse by profession, she has written Healing Herbs for Nervous Disorders and Keep Your Body Healthy.

She also writes Young Adult Fantasy, such as Chosen by the Sword — Book Two in her series The Ancestors’ Secrets — and The Curse. A friend of mine recommended I connect with Erika and hire her to do the book cover for my Mad Shadows II: Dorgo the Dowser and The Order of the Serpent, as well as the interior design and layout, formatting and all the technical details that go along with publishing a book. Well, I linked up with her on Facebook and we got to talking, and right away I knew we were on the same page, no pun intended. So I sent her my manuscript, and she started working almost immediately. She even revised and polished up the original map I drew for Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser.

While Erika went to work almost immediately, I purchased her Protected by the Falcon and started reading. I had never read a Young Adult Fantasy before (unless you want to count The Hobbit and the Harry Potter series.) Needless to say, as evidenced by this review, her novel was not what I was expecting. Indeed, it was a surprising pleasure to read because it was written and told so differently and in so many ways from the fantasy I usually read. Plus, Erika gave me something in her novel that will always keep me reading: believable characters I can relate to, care about, and even hate. I’ve even read a few of her children’s books, too. So let me tell you a little bit about Protected by the Falcon, and why I liked it. (By the way, Erika works hard and she works fast, too!)

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Future Treasures: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Monday, March 27th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence-smallI don’t make time much time for epic fantasy these days. It’s not that I’m not tempted, it’s just that epic fantasy is such a huge time investment, and I’d rather spend that time sampling a variety of standalone titles from up and coming authors.

But I make an exception for Mark Lawrence, whom I consider one of the finest craftsmen working in the field of modern fantasy. He is the international bestselling author of the Broken Empire and the Red Queen’s War trilogies, and his latest, Red Sister, kicks off a brand new series about a secretive order of holy warriors. It arrives in hardcover from Ace next month.

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy, young girls are raised to be killers. In some few children the old bloods show, gifting rare talents that can be honed to deadly or mystic effect. But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls.

A bloodstained child of nine falsely accused of murder, guilty of worse, Nona is stolen from the shadow of the noose. It takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist, but under Abbess Glass’s care there is much more to learn than the arts of death. Among her class Nona finds a new family — and new enemies.

Despite the security and isolation of the convent, Nona’s secret and violent past finds her out, drawing with it the tangled politics of a crumbling empire. Her arrival sparks old feuds to life, igniting vicious struggles within the church and even drawing the eye of the emperor himself.

Beneath a dying sun, Nona Grey must master her inner demons, then loose them on those who stand in her way.

Red Sister, the first volume of Book of the Ancestor, will be published by Ace on April 4, 2017. It is 480 pages, priced at $27.99 in hardcover and $12.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Bastien Lecouff Deharme. Read the prologue here, and read Mark’s last blog post for us here.


The Digest Enthusiast #5 Now Available

Monday, March 27th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Digest Enthusiast January 2017-small The Digest Enthusiast January 2017-back-small

Unplug the phone and cancel my Netflix subscription. The Digest Enthusiast #5 is finally in the house.

Okay, maybe it seems strange to some of you that there’s a magazine out there devoted to collectors of vintage digest magazines. (But it can’t have escaped you that a healthy percentage of Black Gate‘s contributors are obsessive digest magazine collectors, right? Right?) Though I think the thing that might really surprise you is just how fascinating this magazine is to anyone with an interest in 20th Century genre fiction.

Last issue my favorite feature was Steve Carper’s affectionate and detailed look at The Galaxy Science Fiction Novels, and so this time I turned with high anticipation to his 20-page survey of Ellery Queen Selects, a line of 10 novels and collections published between 1947-1950, including work by Dashiell Hammett, John Dickson Carr, O. Henry, and others. And I was not disappointed — it’s a lively behind-the-scenes look at an interesting chunk of literary history. But the article that really grabbed my attention was Peter Enfantino’s insightful issue-by-issue examination of Robert A.W. Lowndes’ Magazine of Horror, one of the most collectible pulp horror periodicals of the 20th Century.

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What Lies Beyond The Yawning Portal? Some of the Best Adventures in Gaming

Sunday, March 26th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales From the Yawning Portal-smallNow here’s a splendid idea, long overdue. Next month Wizards of the Coast is releasing an anthology of some of the finest D&D adventures ever created — including Gygax’s masterpiece Against the Giants, and the insidious and infamous Tomb of Horrors — under one cover, all updated for use with the Fifth Edition of the rules. There’s a lot of excitement building for this book, and rightly so… it’s a great way for modern players to experience some of the classic dungeon crawls that transformed early players into life-long gamers a generation ago.

Dread tales told in the dead of night!

When the shadows grow long in Waterdeep and the fireplace in the taproom of the Yawning Portal dims to a deep crimson glow, adventurers from across the Forgotten Realms, and even from other worlds, spin tales and spread rumors of dark dungeons and lost treasures. Some of the yarns overheard by Durnan, the barkeep of the Yawning Portal, are inspired by places and events in far-flung lands from across the D&D multiverse, and these tales have been collected into a single volume.

Within this tome are seven of the most compelling dungeons from the 40+ year history of Dungeons & Dragons. Some are classics that have hosted an untold number of adventurers, while others are some of the most popular adventures ever printed. The seeds of these stories now rest in your hands. D&D’s most storied dungeons are now part of your modern repertoire of adventures. Enjoy, and remember to keep a few spare character sheets handy.

For use with the fifth edition Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide, this book provides fans with adventures, magic items and deadly monsters, all of which have been updated to the fifth edition rules. Explore seven deadly dungeons in this adventure supplement for the world’s greatest roleplaying game.

Tales from the Yawning Portal will be released in hardcover on April 4. It includes the following seven adventures.

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7th-9th April is Conpulsion! Edinburgh’s Ultimate Roleplaying and Tabletop Convention!

Sunday, March 26th, 2017 | Posted by M Harold Page

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Scotland’s biggest weekend gaming convention

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I’ll be doing a writing workshop based on my Storyteller Tools

If you’re anywhere near Edinburgh, then don’t miss Conpulsion this Easter!

It’s basically Valhalla for geeks, a temporary Nerdtopia — think Burning Man, but with less sun and more dice.

We’re talking two and a bit days of actual table top gaming in a popup community that you wish would just settle down and start its own township!

It’s Scotland’s biggest weekend gaming convention, and it is a splendid experience. (See reviews for 2014 and 2o15)

There are dozens of roleplaying games squirrelled away in the Gothic venue’s labyrinth, all refereed by experienced GMs. These run morning, afternoon and evening, so it really is possible to roleplay solidly for two days.

There are whole areas devoted to modern board and card games, some of them entirely new, plus various LARP games and panel discussions.

There’s also always wargaming going on, especially X-Wing and Warhammer 40K, but also games you  won’t have heard of, or are yearning to try.

The atmosphere is inclusive and have-a-go, with roleplaying sessions aimed at a range of ages and experiences, and board and wargames hosted by enthusiastic demonstrators.

Overall it’s a really good chance to try out — or at least, watch — the kind of games that look tempting but are a bit too expensive to just buy on the off-chance that they are any good. It’s also the place to pick up copies of games without having to pay shipping —  a refreshingly retro experience in an era when the Internet is usually cheaper.

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The Poison Apple: Have Long Sword Will Battle, An Interview with Martin Page

Saturday, March 25th, 2017 | Posted by Elizabeth Crowens

Martin Page demonstrating German Longsword at Compulsion

Martin Page demonstrating German Longsword at Compulsion

Martin Page is a regular contributor to Black Gate and writes novels, such as the alternate history mash-up Swords versus Tanks and non-fiction books like Storyteller Tools, under the pen name, M. Harold Page. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland and teaches Medieval German longsword at Edinburgh’s Dawn Duellists Society.

Martin, what have you been working on?

I’ve been taken a break from blogging while working on a space opera series. I’ll shortly return with a series of articles on the new edition of Traveller, the famously gritty Science Fiction roleplaying game.

Traveller?

Massively influential game from the same era as Dungeons and Dragons but still going strong. Traveller has been around so long at this point that people recommend books or TV series that are strangely like the game, because they were probably heavily influenced by it!

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The Complete Carpenter: The Fog (1980)

Saturday, March 25th, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

the-fog-blu-ray-coverIn my John Carpenter career retrospective, I’ve now crossed the Rubicon: moving past the director’s most famous and successful film and entering the 1980s, a decade his movies helped define and often looked far beyond … frequently to their initial box office detriment.

The decade opens with Mr. Carpenter in a slight quandary: when you just made the most profitable independent movie of all time (a record unbeaten until The Blair Witch Project more than twenty years later), there’s going to be a bit of pressure for the follow-up. Carpenter stuck with the horror genre for his next film, although a much different type than the realistic slasher of Halloween. Taking inspiration from classic ghost stories, the vengeful corpses of EC Comics, and a trip to Stonehenge, Carpenter and producer Debra Hill came up one of the best low-budget horror elevator pitches: magical fog brings pirate leper ghosts to unleash their wrath on a small seaside town. Yep, pirate leper ghosts.

The Story

Antonio Bay, a sleepy coastal Northern California town where nothing happens, is preparing to celebrate its hundredth anniversary of being a sleepy coastal town where nothing happens. Then everything starts to happen at once when the ghosts aboard the Elizabeth Dane, a leper colony ship that sank near Spivey Point a century ago (timing!), slosh ashore in a shroud of thick, luminescent fog. It turns out Antonio Bay was founded on a double-cross that tricked the leper colony out of their gold and lured their ship with false beacons into wrecking on the shoals. The murderous specters and their pointy fishing tools make a mess out of the lives of folks in Antonio Bay, including lighthouse keeper and radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), the anniversary event organizer Mrs. Williams (Janet Leigh), a hitchhiking artist (Jamie Lee Curtis), and a priest who’s discovered the dreadful truth about the town’s history (Hal Holbrook).

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in February

Friday, March 24th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

2000AD Free Comic Day-smallBack in December, Derek Kunsken’s enthusiastic review of Star Wars: Rogue One, “I Am One With the Force and the Force Is With Me,” shot up to #2 on our monthly traffic chart. Last month he claimed the #1 slot, and he didn’t need a blockbuster film to make it happen — he did it the old fashioned way, with a book review. The book in question was Thrill-Power Overload: A History of the British Comic 2000 AD, a detailed history of the legendary comic that launched Judge Dredd, Alan Moore’s D.R. and Quinch, Sláine, Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog and countless others. Check it out.

Number 2 on the list for February was Mark Finn’s report on the Kickstarter for the first Skelos Press anthology, Chicken Fried Cthulhu, followed by Violette Malan’s survey of My Top Five Sword-Fight Movies, our obituary for GDW founder Loren Wiseman, and Andrew Zimmerman Jones’ interview with Paizo mastermind and Creative Director of their new Starfinder RPG, James L. Sutter.

Howard Andrew Jones’ review of one of his favorite recent games, the solitaire-suitable WWII simulation Heroes of Normandy, came in at #6 for February. At #7 was our report on the new Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast from Robert Zoltan and his talking raven — featuring a lengthy interview with Black Gate‘s own Ryan Harvey on one of his favorite topics, Edgar Rice Burroughs. And close on its heels was our announcement of the 2017 Nebula Award Nominations.

Rounding out the Top Ten were Steven Brust’s summary of Five Roger Zelazny Books that Changed His Life, and Fletcher Vredenburgh’s January Short Story Roundup.

The complete list of Top Articles for February follows. Below that, I’ve also broken out the most popular overall articles, online fiction, and blog categories for the month.

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